A Cappella and the Creation of Rhythm 3: Melody & Accompaniment Textures

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This is the third and final post in a series that looks at the consequences for the close-harmony arranger of Cooper & Meyer’s theory of rhythm. By looking at the way that musical structures create patterns of accent, we can draw a number of practical conclusions about how we control musical elements so as to make a coherent sense of rhythm without undue distractions.

In some ways, melody and accompaniment textures provide fewer challenges than homophonic textures, because they have more built-in contrast. The parts singing the accompaniment patterns can set up a regular metrical framework to drape the tune over, in much the way that a band’s rhythm section frees a soloist up to play with and pull against the basic rhythmic structure.

On the other hand, it was actually in a melody-and-accompaniment texture that I first started thinking about the application of this theory to arranging, so it’s not all plain sailing. Specifically, I discovered that you have to be careful with syncopation in a timbrally-uniform texture that push-beats don’t become a stronger ‘stimulus marked for consciousness’ (i.e. accent) than the downbeat.

Here’s the passage I was playing with at the time:

Now, Van Morrison sings the start of most bars as a push-beat like this:


But I found that I needed to straighten some of these out and place them on the downbeat to keep the metrical structure intact. The bass melody was already stronger than the harmony parts by virtue of being more active, and there aren’t strong chord changes at this part of the song to create harmonic accents. In effect, the bass part was playing two roles: both melody and foundation for the rhythm section. In the next section of the song I took the tune back into the lead part, and the combination of much more active harmonic motion and having the bass role back to outline it very clearly meant that the melodic syncopations could go back in without overbalancing the whole.

So in mixed textures the list of ways that musical structures create rhythm offers more opportunities than pitfalls – but the skills you need to work around the pitfalls in homophonic textures do still come in handy on occasion.

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